“World’s Largest Twine Ball,” ahem “Rolled By One Man”


Historical & Museum / Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

There are multiple claims to the world’s biggest ball of twine record in the United States. The four giant twine balls each hail from different states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri. Of course, I’m biased.
Francis A. Johnson, son of Magnus Johnson, a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, began rolling a ball of twine in his basement in 1950. No one really knows why. Francis rolled twine four hours a day, every day (I know, right?!). He eventually moved the ball onto his front lawn and used railroad jacks to help foster the roundness. For 29 years it sat, ever growing on Johnson’s farm. Eventually, he built a shed to protect it from the elements. Johnson didn’t stop until 1979 when he died from emphysema. The town figured that nearly thirty years of twine dust killed him. By then his ball weighed almost 9 tons and was 12 feet wide. The ball was dedicated by his descendants to the city of Darwin, Minnesota for preservation for future generations. Francis’s creation was in the Guinness Book of World Records, holding the title from its completion in 1979 until 1994, and was referenced by “Weird Al” Yankovic in his 1989 song “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”
Francis’s ball inspired Frank Stoeber in Cawker City, Kansas. Taking it as a personal challenge, Frank began amassing his own ball and soon had over 1,600,000 feet of twine rolled into a sphere 11 feet in diameter — only a foot shy of the Darwin champion. Then, in 1974, Frank Stoeber died. Cawker City built an open-air gazebo over his ball and set it up on Highway 24 in town, where locals and visitors can add twine, Thus making it bigger than the Darwin gargantuan. Later, two more twine balls came to be. One is from a retired mason living in Valley View, Texas, J.C. Payne who eventually sold his creation to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, where it was moved to their museum in Branson, Missouri. The heaviest resides in Lake Nebagamon, Wisconsin, built by James Frank Kotera.
I forever hold Darwin’s treasure to be the reigning champion. You can disagree. It has become so much a symbol of the city of Darwin that it spawned The Twineball Inn, a restaurant (not a motel) that has since closed and an adjacent volunteer-run, free to visit museum and gift shop has information on the history of the ball. You can buy twine souvenirs including bumper stickers, earrings, t-shirts, sweatshirts, starter kits, etc, to really solidify your vintage road trip experience. If you do go – do not forget to sign the guest book located in the mailbox!

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